According to recent government data, only 15% of all U.S. college students graduate with STEM-related degrees. At the same time, U.S. job market demand for STEM-related skills is at an all-time high, with an estimated 2.4 million new and replacement job openings expected through 2018, according to a 2011 study by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. So why aren’t more college students seeking-out degrees, certificates, and other credentials in STEM-related fields, and how can institutions help their students identify best-fit academic paths to high-demand – and often high-paying — jobs?

Owen Software, founded by former engineering professor and advisor, Dr. Adeboyejo Oni, has focused its attention and energy on helping postsecondary students, military personnel, and professionals identify and pursue STEM-related education and career paths that are compatible with their talents and interests. Pathevo® is designed to help users make informed education and career decisions throughout their lives, providing resources to keep them on-track, using the patented, cloud-based Pathevo®-STEM system. I caught up with Owen Software Vice President Kathryn Hughes to learn more.

Jeanne Heston (JH): What was the inspiration for the Pathevo®-STEM system?

Kathryn Hughes (KH): When Dr.Oni was a faculty member and advisor at MIT and Morgan State University, he worked with many students who had chosen engineering and science majors, only to discover that the particular paths that they had chosen were not the right matches. Quite often, a student had chosen a branch of engineering because a friend or relative had suggested it, but he soon found that it did not match his skills or interests. About 5 years ago, Dr. Oni developed an initial prototype for a decision-support tool for engineering students, based upon research that he and the NASA Maryland Space Grant Foundation had been conducting since 2007.  The concept soon expanded to encompass a wider range of STEM-related majors and occupations. The first commercial version of the Pathevo system was launched about a year ago.

JH: What is it that makes the Pathevo offering unique?

KH: Pathevo is the only solution that fully integrates STEM- related education- and career-planning resources to help educators, employers, and community organizers align and connect the unique individual interests of every student, employee, and veteran with education and career pathways.

There are three basic modules that provide tools for assessment, exploration, and planning. It all starts with the interest assessment tools that we have integrated into our offerings – a set of 180 questions to evaluate and categorize the learner’s personality type and ideal work environment. According to the late psychologist John Holland’s theory of career choice, there are six personality types: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. By using the Holland Codes (also known as RIASEC) and mapping a learner’s profile to her ideal work environment, the Pathevo system can suggest a list of STEM careers that may be right for her.

JH: Since launching Pathevo, I know that you have deployed the system at a variety of 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities in 16 states. What sort of feedback have you received?  What do students and administrators like best?

KH: Our users often refer to the Pathevo system as a “GPS for education”, enabling them to map a path to a realistic and satisfying STEM-related career, with an easy-to-use system that can be accessed 24/7. Pathevo users – especially those who are first-generation college students — like the fact that the assessment component enables them to identify STEM career avenues that they and their families were not previously aware of. In the Pathevo exploration module, they can explore day-in-the-life videos and other work scenario resources, find current and projected salary data, and identify the U.S. locations with the greatest job-related demand. Administrators and advisors like the fact that students can assume more responsibility for career exploration and creation of an actionable plan for achieving their academic goals.

JH: After students identify the right career and academic plans, what’s next?

 KH: The Pathevo system enables them to monitor their progress toward their goals and to share their plans with administrators, advisors, and others that they designate within the system. A unique Pathevo Advising module enables faculty advisors to engage with students regularly to create personal plans that include specific actions for students to undertake to achieve their goals, ranging from academic to professional preparation.

JH: Where do you see this technology going over the next several years?

KH: STEM jobs are projected to grow at a rate of 17% per year for the foreseeable future and pay 26% more than non-STEM jobs on average.   Since two-thirds of these jobs will require a college degree, we see a growing need in the workforce development space for the services that the Pathevo system provides, with a focus on helping displaced workers, or those looking for a career change, with assistance in exploring career options and mapping-out a retraining plan that will lead to a best-fit STEM-related career.

Do you have ideas related to increasing graduation and certification rates in STEM-related fields? Please share your suggestions using the Comments box below.